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Chu Is Busy Today: Solar Zones, Efficient Vehicle Grants

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Everyone’s favorite Department of Energy Chief Steven Chu was mighty busy today. Chu ushered in two decent-sized announcements from the DOE including a report that establishes “solar energy zones” on public lands, which will (hopefully) speed up the process of approving large solar projects on these lands, as well as an announcement that the DOE will give out $184 million in grants for efficient vehicle technology projects.

Solar Zones

First off, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Chu detailed an analysis (dubbed the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement) which was developed by the DOE over the past two years and which points out the best places in six Western states for large scale solar projects on Bureau of Land Management land. Basically the report is meant to identify the best (most low risk) areas for large solar projects, so that companies interested in building on these lands can get their applications through the clogged approval pipeline much more quickly.

There’s been a massive backlog of solar projects waiting for approval on BLM lands — 104 solar applications covering 1 million acres that could generate 60 GW of electricity, according to the DOE. Up until a couple months ago not a single solar project had been approved for BLM lands, and the industry was getting frustrated. Rhone Resch, who leads the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a call this summer “The fact that we have not received one permit to build on federal land is disturbing.”

Since then BrightSource’s flagship solar project Ivanpah received a “record of decision,” from the BLM, and two other solar projects Chevron’s Lucerne PV project and Tessera/Stirling’s Imperial Valley CSP plant, were approved for BLM land, too.

This latest solar report is a result of President Obama calling for a “fast track” for solar BLM proposals back in 2009. If a project does win approval, the next step is for the BLM to issue a right-of-way to the applicant for a specified term (likely 20-30 years, according to the agency). The feds then collect rent on the property at what’s determined to be fair market value.

The report identifies 22 million acres of BLM-administered lands that will be available for right of way applications for solar projects, out of 120 million acres of public land covered by the Draft Solar PEIS. Of those 22 million acres, only 677,400 acres would be designated Solar Energy Zones, and the DOE is expecting that only about 214,000 acres of the land would be used for solar projects.

Efficient Vehicles

Chu also announced that the DOE will be giving away $184 million worth of grants to researchers and companies that are building the next-generation of efficient vehicle tech. The categories for grants include advanced fuels and lubricants, light weight materials, advanced battery tech, next-gen power electronics and electric motors, thermoelectrics, efficient driver feedback technologies, and vehicle testing tech.

In order to get a piece of this funding your group has to submit an application by February 28, 2011.

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